DENVER – The Drive. The Fumble. And now, The Blink of an Eye.
With a quick flick of the wrist and a mad dash to the end zone, Tim Tebow, Demaryius Thomas and the Broncos put a sudden end to their playoff game against Pittsburgh – an 11-second throw, catch and run that accounted for the quickest overtime in NFL history.
On the first play of the extra period Sunday, Tebow threw a crossing pattern to Thomas, who stiff-armed Ike Taylor and won the race to the end zone for an 80-yard score that lifted the Broncos to a 29-23 playoff victory over the stunned Steelers.
All in 11 ticks of the clock – the quickest overtime ever, regular season or playoffs.
It will be talked about for much longer, destined to earn a spot in Denver’s colorful playoff history, somewhere up there with The Drive and The Fumble.
John Elway, the quarterback who was around for those magic moments, was like every other Broncos fan for this one – he could only watch and hope. When Thomas crossed the goal line, ol’ No. 7 jumped up and down like a kid.
“When I saw him scoring, first of all, I just thought, ‘Thank you, Lord,’ ” he said. “Then, I was running pretty fast, chasing him.”
A few moments later, he was Tebowing in the end zone – down on one knee, resting one hand against his forehead, while he punched his other fist in the turf. After that, he did victory laps and jumped into the stands at a stadium that has been thirsting for something special for a while now. Denver’s last turn in the playoffs was the 2006 AFC title game, a 34-17 loss to the Steelers, five seasons before Tebow arrived.
“Definitely a special memory. One that will always be very special,” Tebow said.
The Tebow-to-Thomas connection denied fans a good look at the NFL’s new postseason overtime rule. Under the new format, put into play for the first time in this game, each team was guaranteed a possession in overtime – unless, that is, the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown.
“They said, ‘We’re going to run this play, all you have to do is cross the safety,’ ” Thomas said. “Then, I saw the safety come down and the only person I had to beat was the corner. I got some space and the field was wide open.”
After a loss last week to the Chiefs – Denver’s third straight – in which Tebow threw for 60 yards and logged a quarterback rating of 20.8, Elway urged him to be more aggressive with the ball. He wanted his quarterback to step up and take more chances. Tebow did that all game, softening the Steelers with gains of 51, 58, 30 and 40 yards, all in the first half.
Though the Steelers rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half, their defense was off-balance most of the game. They were clearly caught unaware on the first play of overtime, biting on Tebow’s play-action fake.
“We knew they were capable of big plays,” Mundy said. “They didn’t’ make the playoffs for no reason.”